A Preview of the 2010 Chicago Jazz Festival

written by William Maxwell Kellerman

Once the summer Blues festival has passed and everyone has recovered from their Lollapalooza hangover it means that its time for Jazz in Chicago. The 32nd Annual Chicago Jazz Festival will be held Labor Day weekend from September 2nd-5th in Downtown Chicago.

Where most other Jazz festivals will add non-traditional, Jazz-like acts in order to make the event more main stream, the Chicago Jazz festival remains loyal to the local and traditional Jazz sounds. The majority of the acts therefore are at once worldwide Jazz stars and locally grown talents.

The City of Chicago was going to have to limit the festival to two days because of budget cuts, but was restored to its full four-day schedule thanks to the help of the Chicago Jazz Partnership. “As a result of their donations we now have multiple days and sites and that makes this years festival special.” Said Cindy Gatziolis, Director of PR Marketing for City of Chicago, Mayor’s Office of Special Events.

Headlining this year’s festival will be perennial Jazz pianist and Chicago’s native son Ramsey Lewis on Friday, The Either/Orchestra on Saturday, and the Kurt Elling quintet with saxophonist Ernie Watts on Sunday. The majority of performances will be held at Grant and Millennium parks, but this year’s festival will also feature acts at the Chicago Cultural Center and Roosevelt University.

Undoubtedly at the forefront of local stars is Jazz pianist Ramsey Lewis, who will be perform in celebration of his 75th birthday with an 8:30pm set at the Pritzker Pavillon in Millennium park on Friday. Lewis has been awarded three Grammy Awards and seven golden records in a career that has spanned the past six decades.

“Ramsey has always been able to strike a good balance between art and commerciality and make it all flow.” Said Tim Jackson, director of the world famous Monterey Jazz Festival. “He is an established elder statesman who is a great spokesperson for the music and has always been an advocate for the Chicago Jazz festival.”

The teaming up of Chicago born vocalist Kurt Elling with saxophonist Ernie Watts sets up the festival to end in spectacular fashion on Sunday evening. Elling, who has composed works for the Steppenwolf Theatre and the City of Chicago, and his group will feature Watts who, in addition to be accomplished in Jazz and Rhythm and Blues, is well known for playing Rock and Roll with The Rolling Stones and Frank Zappa.

Perhaps the act that Loyola students and other young music fans would be interested to see is the Brad Mehldau trio, who will open the festival’s last evening of concerts on Sunday. Pianist Brad Mehldau and his trio come from the Nonesuch record label, known for acts such as The Black Keys, Wilco, and Ben Folds.

Described by a USC Jazz drummer as “carrying Bill Evan’s torch of the true piano jazz trio”, Mehldau also shows popular and contemporary rock shades with stellar Radiohead and Beatles covers. Just last month he successfully teamed up with John Mayer at the Hollywood Bowl in southern California for several Jimi Hendrix and Led Zeppelin tunes.

Other acts will include Cuban born, Latin Jazz pianist Chuchito Valdes and the eclectic drummer and composer Brian Blade and the Fellowship Band. Nicole Mitchell, winner of the Jazz Journalists Association’s title of “Flutist of the Year” will be featured in as many as five acts in the festival.

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